The Shelf: MAN OF STEEL, AKIRA, NOSFERATU
By Kyle Anderson on November 12, 2013
This week, we’ve got some classics, some new favorites, a couple from the obscure pile, and even a movie about a snail who races against cars for no reason. Evidently people were okay with this.
Origin stories are always the easiest to tell, but they can become tiresome over and over again. This hasn’t stopped comic books from rebooting or tinkering with the beginnings of various heroes over the years, nor has it stopped studios from making these stories again. If the next Batman movie is just the origin story again, I’m probably going to be upset. But Superman’s start hadn’t been seen on the big screen since 1978, so, no matter how familiar, the decision was justified. Because the Superman origin is so in the zeitgeist, they only needed to touch on pieces, like how Clark had to learn not to let his anger get the best of him, and how he had to try to be the bigger man because he could easily tear anybody apart if he wanted. It’s these things that give the character a lot more depth and make him more than just a do-gooder Boy Scout, but it also never gets too navel-gazey. Sure, there’s a bit of Space-Jesus talk in there, too, but it’s Superman; what else do you expect?
On the one hand, a lot of it looks utterly gorgeous. Landscapes, be they real or computer-generated, look terrific, especially with Superman flying over and around them. Man of Steel lacks the glossy sheen of something like The Avengers, but that’s only because it’s closer in tone (though not nearly as dour) to Nolan’s Dark Knight movies. Seeing the guy in the cape jumping and flying around is something every kid, even a 29-year-old not-Superman fan like me, can get excited about. In this way, and in the overall look and composition of the scenes, Snyder does a truly bang-up job.
But “bang-ups” are at the crux of what I think the film didn’t do so well. Poor Smallville barely has anything in it, yet it’s on the main street that Superman and some U.S. military helicopters decide to battle two Kryptonians. Metropolis has it even worse. Sure, there’s the mayhem and destruction caused by the plot of the villains, but why should there then be an even more destructive battle between Superman and Zod? How can you claim to have the best interests of the people of Earth in mind when you wantonly level whole blocks of a major city while attempting to “save” it? It made the New York destruction in The Avengers look like some fireworks hit it. Maybe make Zod fly to the middle of nowhere to battle? That work for anyone else?
The Blu-ray has over 4 hours of behind the scenes and making-of material, which is really astonishing. One thing that can be said for Snyder is that he really likes putting extras on his discs, and here there’s a complete separate disc with a feature-length video commentary of the film in which Snyder tells you everything about the making of the movie, as well as dozens of interviews with other people involved. If you want to know about making a big-budget superhero movie, this is a pretty cool way to learn.
If you’d like to win a copy of the film on Blu-ray, as well as a 1/6th scale Man of Steel statue from Kotobukiya, head to the contest page here. And to read my full review of the movie, go to my Man of Steel review page here.
No argument about it: Akira is one of the top 5, if not top 1, most important anime feature films ever made. Its cyberpunk post-apocalyptic Tokyo-scape became a staple of grown up animation, and its haunting imagery influenced everything from The Matrix to Chronicle. Much of Japanese manga and anime deals with the aftermath of the atomic bomb, and this movie goes so far as to open with a mushroom cloud, being the result of psionic testing done on the titular character, a nearly-omnipotent psychic boy.
Much of the action in the film focuses on two bikers, Tetsuo and Kaneda, friends since childhood. Tetsuo looks up to Kaneda and sort of resents him at the same time due to a severe inferiority complex. However, this changes when Tetsuo’s psychic abilities begin to manifest and an intense rivalry between the two develops. Eventually, Tetsuo decides freeing the cryogenically-frozen Akira is his mission, but Kaneda can’t let that happen.
The film by Katsuhiro Otomo, who was also the creator of the manga, is still a visually stunning and disturbing feast, and one can’t help but sit in slightly ill-feeling awe as the grotesque imagery cascades through each and every frame.
The Blu-ray features both English dub tracks, trailers, commercials, and a retrospective documentary about the making and restoration of the film. A must-own for any fan of anime, sci-fi, or good movies in general.
Halloween might be over, but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t time to watch and enjoy one of horror cinema’s earliest and finest films, F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic Nosferatu. An unlicensed adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the author’s estate ordered every print of this film destroyed in the 1930s. Luckily, one print survived, and from that we were able to still have this unmitigated triumph of German Expressionism and Gothic horror.
Max Schreck gives a truly frightening and somewhat understated performance as Count Orlock, the rat-like vampire aristocrat who travels from Transylvania to Weimar Germany (via boat, which is bizarre) to begin a reign of terror and to seduce the wife of a real estate agent. Schreck cuts a distinct and eerie shadow in his extravagant makeup, and it’s sort of no wonder people thought he might actually have been a real vampire.
Kino’s 2 disc Blu-ray remastering features two versions of the film, one with German intertitles and one with English intertitles, the original 1922 score, and a 52 minute documentary about Murnau’s early career. Nosferatu is a haunting nightmare of a movie with astonishing images, and in HD for the first time, it’s like discovering it all over again.
City Lights - Criterion continues its issuing of Charlie Chaplin classics with what many consider his masterpiece, a bittersweet and very funny love story of the Tramp falling for a blind flower girl.
JFK 50 Year Commemorative Collection – Oliver Stone’s conspiracy opus gets a huge collector’s edition set in honor of the 50 year anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Body Bags - John Carpenter’s foray into TV horror anthology. He plays a Coroner who guides us through the three tales of terror, featuring Robert Carradine, Stacy Keach, and Mark Hamill.
Prince Avalanche - Director David Gordon Green’s super indie comedy about two guys (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) tasked with painting lines on a road after a forest fire. Check out my interviews with Green and Hirsch.
Turbo – Seriously, are kids even interested in the story of a snail who’s really fast and races against cars? Anyone out there?
TELEVISION RELEASE OF THE WEEK
Dexter The Complete Final Season - Even serial killers with a moral code have to go away some time.